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The politics of masking, part II
Monday night will be an epic battle between the masked and the unmasked
One of the weirdest experiences in my journalism career was an early meeting about whether or not the city should have a mask mandate. I realized in attending the meeting, it would be impossible to remain neutral. There could be no Schrodinger’s mask; I either needed to wear one to the meeting, or not. There was no middle ground, no neutral position.
This meeting represented the only time in my career where maintaining neutrality was impossible. Either wearing one or not could signal my potential bias.
Ultimately I wore one. I figured the current rules at City Hall were to wear a mask, so an easy default is to follow the rules. But it still made me uncomfortable; I believe strongly in neutrality, curiosity and open-mindedness. That means coming into each issue with those qualities. But a good journalist isn’t afraid to draw conclusions from the facts gathered, just like a good scientist. It also means being open to changing those beliefs in the face of new, overwhelming evidence.
Climate change is a great example. That the climate’s growing heat is manmade seems obvious from the data. The spike since the industrial revolution is so stark and out of proportion with rises in temperature at any other time period that it can’t be anything but manmade. BUT (a very important but!) should compelling data emerge that shows the opposite to be true, I will change my beliefs.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that many people don’t share that perspective. COVID-19 was an example of rapidly evolving science and data collection. So what we knew in month two scientifically, for instance, was quite different from month five or month 10. Yet, people are still using hand-sanitizer and wiping surfaces, despite that we no know it’s an aerosol spread virus. Oregon instituted an outdoor mask policy, despite that we now know outdoor transmission outside of large, tightly-knit gatherings is exceedingly rare. COVID-deniers maintained their opinion of COVID being a minor inconvenience, despite the 659,000 dead.
The inability to adapt to new information has led to what we’re about to see Monday: whether or not masks should be required in Wausau area schools.
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